Carydis’ Conducting Gives Don Giovanni a Mauling

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Don Giovanni : Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Constantinos Carydis (conductor). 21.1.2012 (CC)

Don Giovanni:  Gerald Finley
Leporello: Lorenzo Regazzo
Donna Anna:  Hibla Gerzmava
Commendatore:  Marco Spotti
Don Ottavio:  Matthew Polenzani
Donna Elvira:  Katarina Karnéus
Zerlina:  Irini Kyriakidou
Masetto:  Adam Plachetka

Director:  Francesca Zambello
Revival Director/
Revival Choreographer:  Duncan Macfarland
Designs:  Maria Björnson
Lighting:  Paul Pyant

My colleague Mark Berry ( reviewed the 2008 revival of this 2002 production for this site. I didn’t see it then, and I had not seen it previously, so this was virgin territory for me. Over at St Martin’s Lane, and back in 2004, Calixto Bieito’s potent staging of Don Giovanni left me reaching for superlatives ( It was a great contrast to this Francesca Zambello production: in which, alas, it was only the literal fires on stage that made me warm to the present evening’s staging.

The Virgin Mary looks down on events here, a nod to the religious belief-systems that Don Giovanni himself so blantantly ridicules and transgresses. This is actually one of the subtler parts of the production. Much less is in the huge hand of the Commendatore which appears to take the Don, or the Guy Fawkes finale. Yet the production did not actively destroy, or even subvert, Mozart and da Ponte’s vision, which is more than can be said of Carydis’ conducting. The swift, yet somehow low-powered Overture set out the stall, but it had one advantage – no singers. The problem was that there were too many occasions of conductor parting company with his vocalists to put it down to chance. It felt like it was head down and here we go, with the poor singers left to fit in as best they could. There was little sense of flow either, little sense of arias, duets and ensembles connecting towards a greater whole (and wholes don’t get much greater than this opera). Leporello’s Catalogue Aria was a notable casualty of the singer/orchestra disagreements – a shame  as bass-baritone Lorenzo Regazzo, singing the role for the first time at Covent Garden, has a lovely voice and plenty of confidence. Yet the aria itself was low on energy and wit, and the fault was all Carydis’. So were the dramatic lows (where there should have been highs), such as the disguises of the second act.

The chemistry between Leporello and the Don, Gerald Finley, was never quite there. This is a vital component; each is dependent on the other to sustain the ongoing depravity. Mozart’s recitatives should fizz with manly banter, yet here they never quite managed it. Finley is a fine, if not absolutely outstanding Don. Vocally, there was much to delight (“La ci darem”, for example, was full of tenderness), and one did indeed become dragged into his ongoing saga. His “Dei vieni alla finestra” (Act II) was a highlight in its finesse: it was simply beautifully sung.

Possibly the star of the evening, though, was Katarina Karnéus, whose Elvira was full-bodied and all woman (“Ah, fuggi il traditor” summed her up perfectly). She exuded real presence, both physically and vocally. She portrayed Elvira as magnificently unhinged. As Donna Anna, the Russian Hibla Gerzmava impressed as a superbly dramatic actor – the drama was there in her voice, too.

Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka (Masetto) had an appealing voice but tended to get easily drowned out by the orchestra. Irini Kyriakidou’s Zerlina was less of a soubrette than perhaps we are used to. Alas, the weakest member was Matthew Polenzani (as Ottavio), whose bleaty voice seemed a league or two down from the singers surrounding him. Marco Spotti was an acceptable, if not outstanding, Commendatore.

There are too many negatives here to recommend this evening despite some impressive singing. Almost every element was uneven, be it singing, acting, conducting or production. The most heinous crime is that the magnificence of Mozart’s creation is, if not destroyed, certainly well mauled. There is a second cast (which will also be reviewed by this site, although not by me), which should give space for further consideration. But the impotent production will not change, alas.


Colin Clarke